Verona Comics: A Review

Verona Comics by Jennifer DuganJubilee is an elite cellist. She has incredible talent and, according to her instructors, no emotion as she gets lost in the technical details of playing. With her biggest audition yet coming up for a summer conservatory program, Jubilee has a simple task: take a break. Which is how Jubilee finds herself selling comics with her mom and step-mom at their indie booth at a comic convention and, later, cosplaying as a peacock superhero at the con’s annual prom event.

Ridley doesn’t know who he is yet. All he really knows is that he’s a chronic disappointment to his parents and a barely tolerated presence in his own family. Which is why, despite his out-of-control anxiety, Ridley finds himself at comic con and representing his father’s company, The Geekery, while dressed as Office Batman at prom.

Neither Jubilee nor Ridley are looking for anything long-term, but their connection is immediately obvious. Unfortunately it’s also immediately inconvenient due to their parents’ intense dislike of each other and their rivalry.

With Jubilee’s audition approaching, Ridley’s anxiety spiraling out of control, and circumstances conspiring against them, Jubilee and Ridley will have to figure out if love can conquer all or if some romances are destined for tragedy in Verona Comics (2020) by Jennifer Dugan.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t let the cover of this one fool you, Dugan’s latest standalone novel tackles some heavy stuff wrapped in a light romance. Which is, perhaps, to be expected with a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Lesbrary has a really thoughtful review talking about all the ways that this does in fact nod back to Romeo and Juliet and it makes a lot of sense for exactly why this story is so heavy.

The story alternates between Jubilee and Ridley’s first person narration. In addition to preparing for her audition, Jubilee also has her best friend Jayla–an accomplished Black cosplayer with her eye on FIT for college, and her mom and step-mom to keep her grounded. Jubilee has always been attracted to people of different genders but isn’t sure if that makes her bisexual or something else. And she isn’t sure if any of that “counts” when she’s only ever dated her ex-boyfriend and, now, Ridley.

Ridley, on the other hand, has no support system. He feels isolated and like even more of a failure to his parents after his failed suicide attempt and the betrayal of his last boyfriend. Worst of all, his sister Gray (the only relative Ridley likes) is across the country most of the time. In a desperate bid to stay near Gray and the family home, Ridley tells his father he has a way to get close to The Geekery’s biggest rival. Which, of course, leads to Ridley being in the very bad position of potentially spying on his new girlfriend’s family.

As much as that is to deal with, Ridley is also struggling with crippling social anxiety and chronic stress from his father’s abusive behaviors and his mother’s neglect. Ridley’s unhappiness and his anxiety are palpable in every chapter. Readers should also be warned that there is suicide ideation as well. Later, when Jubilee and Ridley’s relationship seems to have reached a breaking point, both teens also have to confront the fact they might be dealing with co-dependence issues.

While no one dies in Verona Comics, don’t expect a traditional happy ending here either as both Jubilee and Ridley take time to regroup in the wake of a relationship that often brought out the worst in them. Dugan is a great writer and brings all of the fun (and less fun) elements of the comics world to life in this inventive take on Shakespeare’s classic play.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jennifer Bennett, Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Picture Us in the Light: A Review

“I don’t believe you can put anything meaningful into the world without having a kind of innate generosity, something to give of yourself.”

Danny Cheng feels stuck. He’s got an eye toward college next year with an acceptance to RISD with a full ride and, rarer still in Cupertino, complete support from his immigrant parents.

But Danny is still haunted by the loss of a friend who committed suicide last year and every time he tries to imagine next year without his best friend Harry Wong he finds himself spiraling into a panic. Not to mention wondering if Harry really is as in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan, as he claims.

When Danny finds a box of old news clippings and letters in his father’s closet he starts to realize that there might be a reason his parents never talk about their past–a reason that Danny never would have imagined.

As Danny hurtles toward the end of his senior year and delves deeper into his family’s past he will have to confront uncomfortable truths about his parents and acknowledge his own dreams and wants if he ever wants to move forward in Picture Us In the Light (2018) by Kelly Loy Gilbert.

Picture Us In the Light is Loy Gilbert’s sophomore novel.

Danny is the core of the story as he tries to imagine a future without Harry and away from everything he knows in California. His existential dread at both prospects is palpable in Danny’s first person narration and makes for a tense read. Loy Gilbert’s prose shines while focusing on Danny and his friends but an overly packed plot detracts from what should have been a character driven novel.

With so many things happening to Danny it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the final act of the novel feels rushed after a slow build up with layers of suspense padded with a lack of communication between characters–especially between Danny and Harry as Danny struggles with how (or if) to tell Harry that he is in love with him and has been for years.

Picture Us In the Light is a complex story about connection, privilege, and hope. Readers able to overlook a sensationalist plot will appreciate Danny’s relatable narration, clever dialog, and authentic characters.

Possible Pairings: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, American Panda by Gloria Chao, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest and Kali Ciesemier, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett: A Review

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea SedotiEveryone in town is devastated when Lizzie Lovett disappears. Well, almost everyone.

Hawthorn Creely couldn’t care less.

When Hawthorn hears about Lizzie’s disappearance, she expects that to be the end of it. But then instead of moving on with her life, Hawthorn accidentally becomes part of the investigation. As she learns more about Lizzie, Hawthorn also inserts herself more and more into Lizzie’s life. The only one who seems to understand or want to help is Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo.

The closer Hawthorn gets to the truth, the more it feels like her own life is falling apart. When Hawthorn finally digs through all of the lies surrounding Lizzie and her disappearance she will have to decide if there is room for unexplained phenomenon and wondrous moments in a world that is all too painfully real in The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett (2017) by Chelsea Sedoti.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is Sedoti’s debut novel.

Hawthorn is a quirky, fascinating heroine and an engaging unreliable narrator. Her voice is offbeat, sardonic and convincingly tone-deaf given her initially self-centered attitude. Although Hawthorn is jaded and solitary, she is painfully aware her friends maturing and changing while she wants everything to stay the same. Hawthorn still wants to believe in a world where magic is possible; a world where a girl turning into a werewolf is not only likely but also a plausible explanation for her disappearance.

Sedoti’s story is weird and entertaining but, for most of the novel, still an effective mystery with suspense surrounding Lizzie’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, the mystery thread ultimately falls flat with a reveal that, while predictable, is frustrating and problematic.

***Spoilers ahead as I discuss specific plot points.***

Continue reading The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett: A Review

Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

Continue reading Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Last Night at the Circle Cinema: A Review

Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily FranklinOlivia, Bertucci and Codman have been a solid trio throughout high school. Best friends who never had much time for other people, the three are now facing the end of high school and the moment when their lives will diverge.

In a last attempt to keep their bonds strong, Bertucci plans one last escapade the night before graduation. The three will spend the night in the recently boarded up Circle Cinema.

The decrepit movie theater was site to many late night movies and bonding. It will also be their Olivia, Bertucci and Codman’s last chance to talk honestly with each other about what comes next. And everything that threatened to pull them apart over the last year in Last Night at the Circle Cinema (2015) by Emily Franklin.

**Last Night at the Circle Cinema is the kind of book that is impossible to talk about without spoilers so if you don’t like that sort of thing, avert your eyes.**

Continue reading Last Night at the Circle Cinema: A Review

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls: A Review

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn WeingartenJune and Delia used to be friends. Best friends. Even when it felt like their home lives were falling apart, June knew she could count on Delia. She knew their secrets tied them together.

That was a while ago. Over a year. Before June started dating Ryan. Before Delia met Ryan and things got . . . weird.

June hasn’t spoken to Delia since.

Now Delia is dead. Burned to death in her step-father’s shed, they say. Suicide, they say.

June doesn’t believe it.

Certain that Delia was murdered, June sets out to uncover the truth. Instead of easy answers, she finds a complicated  tangle of secrets and lies that will change everything she thought she knew about her best friend in Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls (2015) by Lynn Weingarten.

Find it on Bookshop.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is Weingarten’s fourth novel. It is a stand-alone title.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a complicated novel. Weingarten employs varied narrative techniques and format choices throughout to create prose with as many twists as the plot.

Like June herself, readers never know exactly what to expect in this book. The plot is uneasy and often difficult as June unearths raw moments from her past with Delia. This story is partly the postmortem of a friendship with flashbacks and June’s memories detailing how the girls’ friendship began and, later, how it unraveled.

The rest of the novel focuses more closely on June’s investigation of Delia’s death and her increasing questions about what really happened. June is never certain who to trust, lending a sense of uncertainty and unease to a novel where allegiances–and even facts–are constantly shifting.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a solid thriller with moments of genuine suspense, numerous shocks, and a powerful ending that demands to be discussed at length. A must-read for fans of thrillers in general and readers who like a novel that keeps them guessing.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Graces by Laure Eve, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

The After Girls: A Review

The After Girls by Leah KonenElla, Astrid and Sydney thought they would have the perfect summer between high school and college. Until Astrid kills herself in the isolated cabin they’ve used as a hideaway for years.

In the wake of Astrid’s suicide, Ella and Sydney are left with grief, confusion and questions. How could Astrid do this to herself? How could she leave them behind? How could Ella and Sydney have missed the warning signs?

While Ella is desperate to find answers, some kind of suicide note or explanation, Sydney does everything she can to try to numb herself. Together, Ella and Sydney will follow the pieces of Astrid’s life–and even a chilling message from Astrid herself–to find out the truth about Astrid’s suicide and whether she might be trying to reach them from the afterlife in The After Girls (2013) by Leah Konen.

The After Girls is Konen’s first novel.

The After Girls is a smart, thoughtful novel with an unflinching focus on grieving. Konen’s treatment of both characters is balanced and honest as Ella and Sydney work through their grief in different ways.

With elements of mystery, suspense and even romance for Ella, The After Girls is a subtle story with evocative landscapes and compelling characters. With books like I Was Here and All the Bright Places getting so much buzz, this back list title is well worth reading

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca A. Serle

*A review copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2013*

All the Bright Places: A Review

All the Bright Places by Jennifer NivenTheodore Finch has been contemplating death and how he might end his own life for years. But whenever he starts to think really hard about killing himself something good, even a small good thing, makes him reconsider. It’s hard to stay present and Awake, but once he surfaces Finch is always willing to try.

Violet Markey is counting the days until graduation when she can leave her small Indiana town and the sharp pain of her sister’s sudden death behind.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s easy for everyone to believe that Violet saved Finch. But that isn’t the truth.

After, when they pair up for a school project to explore the wonders of their state, both Finch and Violet realize they might have found exactly who they need in each other. But while Violet begins to embrace life again, Finch finds himself struggling to stay Awake and in the moment in All the Bright Places (2015) by Jennifer Niven.

Find it on Bookshop.

All the Bright Places is Niven’s first novel written for young adults. It was also optioned for a movie before its official release date.

All the Bright Places is very similar to The Fault in Our Stars both thematically and stylistically. It is also poised to be a defining book of 2015 (and possibly also of whatever year the movie adaptation is released if it moves beyond developmental stages) with its appeal and buzz not to mention critical acclaim in the form of several starred reviews.

It is also worth noting that this book is beautifully packaged with a lot of great details ranging from the cover colors to the post it note motif and even a special message on the spine of the physical book.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with such an anticipated title, Niven’s generally strong writing only serves to underscore the numerous flaws within this incredibly frustrating novel.

Spoilers ahead as we delve into deeper discussion . . .

Continue reading All the Bright Places: A Review

Thirteen Reasons Why: A Banned Book Review

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherHannah Baker killed herself two weeks ago. No one knows exactly why, least of all Clay Jensen.

Clay had a crush on Hannah and watcher her from afar. He even saw her at a party once. Before.

But now, two weeks after her suicide, Clay comes home to find a box with his name on it. Inside the box are thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah before she killed herself. Each tape details one of the reasons that Hannah decided to take her own life.

Clay is one of them in Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) by Jay Asher.

Find it on Bookshop.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a haunting story told in Clay and Hannah’s alternating narrations as Clay deals with his guilt and grief over losing Hannah with flashbacks (from the tapes) of Hannah detailing the moments that led to her suicide.

This book was one of the ten most challenged books in 2012. The justification for the challenge was: “Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.”

Starting this story with the knowledge that Hannah is already gone does little to diminish the emotional resonance of this story. Asher’s writing is evocative and taut as he brings Clay and Hannah painfully to life.

This is an honest story and one that isn’t always the easiest to read. Clay and Hannah both make mistakes as do many of the other people readers meet over the course of Hannah’s story. Ultimately it is these flaws that make the story so poignantly real.

Thirteen Reasons Why is an ideal book for readers who aren’t afraid to shed a few tears. This story is sure to linger with readers long after the story ends.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Secret Side of Empty by Maria J. Andreu, The After Girls by Leah Konen, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, The List by Siobhan Vivian

And We Stay: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

And We Stay by Jenny HubbardNo one expected senior Paul Wagoner would walk into his high school with a gun. No one thinks he planned to kill himself and never walk out. Not even his girlfriend, Emily Beam, expected to be threatened by Paul as he confronted her in their high school library.

But all of those things did happen.

Paul is gone and with him pieces of Emily are gone too. Even before his suicide, Emily knew she would never be the same. She just didn’t know it would hurt this much.

Vacillating between guilt and anger, Emily Beam is sent to an all girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Surrounded by history from Emily Dickinson’s life, Emily delves into poetry and her new life hoping to escape.

She has help along the way from her habitual liar roommate K. T. and a girl who likes to steal almost as much as she likes to paint. But it is only Emily herself who can forgive and leave her past behind in And We Stay (2014) by Jenny Hubbard.

And We Stay is Hubbard’s second novel. It was also a Printz honor title in 2015. The story is set in 1995 for reasons that are never entirely clear. Despite the obvious setting (all of Emily’s poems are dated) the novel is largely timeless.

And We Stay is a very short, very fast read. In spite of that, Hubbard’s prose is imbued with substance as this slim novel tackles weighty topics ranging from feminism to processing loss and grief.

Written in the third person, present tense this story is often very distancing. Emily Beam is at a remove from readers, however it’s easy to think she prefers it that way. Flashbacks to Emily’s relationship with Paul, the shooting, and other key moments are interspersed throughout the main narrative of Emily’s first two months at the boarding school.

Each chapter ends with one of Emily’s poems which also further develop the story. Emily Dickinson also features heavily as a character of sorts–her poems are used throughout the story and a somewhat improbable plot thread at the end of the novel revolves around Dickinson’s family home in Amherst.

It’s rare to find books that focus so heavily and so well on girls. And We Stay is one of those books. Emily Beam is a prickly, sad, and surprisingly real heroine. Her observations throughout the story are caustic and insightful in a way heroines rarely get to be in most novels. Hubbard’s portrayal of Emily’s relationships with her new friends and her French teacher are beautifully handled and shockingly real.

Although the pacing was slow and a little strange (with a jarring plot thread late in the story), somehow it all works. The plot develops organically and the included poetry feels seamless. And We Stay is a lovely, thoughtful blend of poetry, feminism and fiction about a girl finding her voice.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales,  Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel, Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis